Vicksburg airport back on fed list

Published 12:01 am Monday, December 24, 2007

VICKSBURG (AP) — Federal tax dollars could boost improvements to the Vicksburg Municipal Airport, which is eligible for federal money for the first time since the 1970s.

Federal Aviation Administration officials informed Mayor Laurence Leyens this month that a request to have the airport entered into the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems had been accepted. Inclusion in NPIAS is the first step toward federal funds for airport improvements.

‘‘It doesn’t guarantee funding, but it greatly increases your odds. You have to get on the list just to be eligible,’’ said Vicksburg Airport Board secretary Jay Kilroy.

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‘‘This has been a priority of the board since the board was created,’’ Kilroy said. ‘‘It’s critical to be on that list.’’

There was no indication that it was a likelihood. Since the 1970s, the FAA had refused to fund improvements to the airport on U.S. 61 South and as recently as April the FAA had written to Leyens rejecting the request. The local facility was officially removed from the list of eligible airports as part of the deal to form a consortium to build Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport at Mound, which opened in 1993, and the FAA’s April letter reminds the city of its obligations to VTR through 2025.

VTR is owned and funded equally by Vicksburg, Tallulah, Warren County and Madison Parish, with money for improvements coming from state sources and the FAA, which also paid 90 percent of the initial $6.2 million land acquisition and construction cost. Vicksburg Municipal Airport, built in 1948, operates off its own revenue and money from the city. A $650,000 state grant five years ago paid for runway work with leftover amounts used for other improvements.

A new wellspring of federal dollars could jump-start several planned upgrades to the airport in Vicksburg, including increased hangar space, an improved fire station and terminal, and removing trees on private land along aircraft approach lanes.

‘‘We were able to pull this off against what some said were very small odds,’’ Kilroy said. The initiative was heavily lobbied through the offices of Mississippi’s congressmen, Kilroy said. The federal position was that there was not enough demand here for federal dollars for two airports that are only a few miles apart. Neither facility has scheduled or commercial flights.

In 1998, a 2-1 city vote to close the municipal airport precipitated a legal battle between the City of Vicksburg and heads of local industries, who challenged a previous administration’s decision to shut it down.

Eighteen businesses and business owners fought the decision to close the airport in favor of the one in Mound, saying Vicksburg Municipal Airport was vital to their operations.

The industries won a local decision that the closure vote was ‘‘arbitrary and capricious,’’ but the state Supreme Court reversed, saying in 2002 that city officials could close the city airport, but by then administrations had changed and Leyens, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman and then North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young, who had voted against closure earlier, all agreed to keep it in operation.

Kilroy said the airport board’s next step will be to draft a 10-year plan and submit it to the FAA.

‘‘With approval we can expect to get some form of funding from the FAA for 10 years,’’ Kilroy said.

‘‘It means building a terminal, fire station, improving landing equipment, all the improvements needed locally, and we only pay 10 percent.’’

Leyens added there was a reasonable chance the required local match could be met with state grants.

Kilroy said FAA funding would be used strictly for aviation improvements, but that a new terminal building that would be primarily used as a city fire station could be justified as an improvement to airport safety. There is already a municipal fire station on the property, added in a converted building after the 1990 annexation, but talks have been under way to build a new station in the area.

Site preparation has already begun for T-hangar buildings that will hold about 10 private bays in one structure. They are expected to boost revenue through rent and fuel sales. Kilroy said the project is not fully funded yet, and that each of three large buildings will cost about $450,000.

‘‘We’re very happy that this has been accomplished.,’’ Kilroy said. ‘‘It’s definitely a good thing for the airport and definitely a good thing for the community.’’

Airport operations are not a major expense for any local government. Operating supplements for VTR paid by the four owners total about $100,000 per year. Both airports have runways approximately a mile long, with a difference being more expansion room at the Louisiana facility, which remains eligible for funding and has plans pending to add taxiways.

The city’s airport site has been eyed as land for recreation as well as industrial development through the years. At one time, dredging a slackwater channel from the nearby Mississippi River was studied to create waterfront commercial sites to supplement the Port of Vicksburg.


Information from: The Vicksburg Post,